The Eagles’ second-round selection was one that no one expected.
Jalen Hurts, the former Alabama quarterback who finished his college career at Oklahoma, was the selection, with touted star-level talents remaining on the board at many positions, including wide receiver (Denzel Mims from Baylor), safety (Jeremy Chinn from Southern Illinois) and cornerback (Kristian Fulton from LSU).
“It’s a blessing. I’m looking forward to what’s to come,” said Hurts, who said he was “ready to go to work."
Given that Carson Wentz is 27 and got a four-year, $128 million contract last year, it’s a stunning move, seemingly an admission of doubt about the franchise’s plan to build around Wentz for the next decade — though, perhaps predictably, general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson vehemently denied any doubts Friday night. But bringing in a talented rookie with the 53rd pick in the draft would seem to undermine Wentz’s position as the leader of the team. It definitely meant bypassing the chance to add major talent at positions where the Eagles don’t have a starter comparable to Wentz.
Roseman said he spoke to Wentz Friday about options for the second round, including Hurts, so Wentz had “a heads up.” Wentz tweeted to Hurts, welcoming him to Philadelphia.
The Eagles let Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles go in free agency last year in part because having two starting-quality QBs, and two leaders at that position, isn’t viable long-term in the NFL. Roseman was asked about that Friday night on a video conference with reporters.
“Well I don’t agree with that. I think Carson is a phenomenal player ... nobody’s going to be looking at a rookie quarterback as somebody who’s going to be taking over for a Pro Bowl quarterback, somebody who has been on the cusp of winning an MVP. But at the end of the day, I’m just going to go back to who we are and what we believe in. We believe in the quarterback position ... we are stewards of the organization. Our job is to make sure that the organization is strong at positions we believe in. That’s O-line and D-line ... and the quarterback position.”
Earlier in the call, Roseman said: “When Coach Pederson came in and we sat down in 2016, we said we were always going to be about the quarterback position. It’s the most important position in sports, and we were very fortunate to get a young Pro Bowl quarterback in Carson Wentz. Our goal is to surround him with as many good people as we possibly can, as many good players as we possibly can. ... We looked at where we were on the board, what was the thing that we believed in the most, and more than that, the people that we believed in the most. Jalen stood out in all of those regards.”
Roseman contended that the Eagles “have shown what we thought about Carson by our actions," a statement that might not be taken the way he envisioned. "We showed it by the amount of picks we put into [trading up to draft] him, and we showed it by the contract extension. We believe that this is the guy that will lead us to our next Super Bowl championship, but for better or worse, we are quarterback developers. We want to be a quarterback factory. We have the right people in place to do that. No team in the National Football League has benefited more from developing their quarterbacks than the Philadelphia Eagles.
“When we make these kinds of decisions, we always go to our principles — who we are and what we believe in. Right or wrong, this is who we are.”
Passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Press Taylor attended Oklahoma’s pro day, held before coronavirus quarantining. Before that, the Eagles met with Hurts at the NFL scouting combine. Player personnel vice president Andy Weidl attended the Sooners’ game against West Virginia.
“It stood out — his strength, his ability to throw and run and make plays,” Weidl said. “He’s part of the new guard of mobile quarterbacks in the league, throwing it or running it. Just an uncanny toughness, poise, and his competitiveness. A natural leader that’s led two college football teams to conference championships.”
Hurts might be able to provide a fun dimension to the offense, like Taysom Hill in New Orleans, but the idea that a gadget backup QB was what the team needed with the 53rd pick in the draft is going to be a hard sell.
Hurts, 6-foot-1, 222, had an incredible year at Oklahoma after losing the starting job at Alabama to Tua Tagovailoa, who was drafted Thursday in the first round, fifth overall. Hurts rushed for 1,298 yards and passed for 3,851.
Roseman was asked what the best-case scenario for Hurts might be, over the next four years, if Wentz stays healthy. Wentz played all 16 games last season, but suffered a concussion early in the playoff loss to Seattle. His previous two seasons ended early due to knee and back injuries.
“When we look at the upside that this player has, and the players he can learn from in that room ... and the coaching staff we have, we think he’s more valuable [than another player they could have taken]. We think when he gets some experience and coaching, this is going to be a valuable player," Roseman said. "That’s our job, acquire as many assets as we can, and utilize them, and also utilize [them] to get more value. That’s really what the draft’s about.”
So the upside, if Wentz is what Roseman has proclaimed him to be, is that they might be able to trade Hurts in a few years for something really good — something that will help the team more, someday, than a starting-quality player at another position in 2020.
This move comes after Wentz heroically carried a 5-7 team to four successive victories and into the playoffs last season, and the front office talked about getting him more weapons for 2020. Some older team leaders were jettisoned, with back-channel whispers about management wanting to make sure Wentz was the voice of leadership. Roseman might not envision this pick making every bad pass Wentz throws a referendum on who should start, but plenty of other people can and will envision it, inside and outside the locker room.
Hurts said he was just excited to be drafted and didn’t know what Wentz would think, and did not have an idea of how their relationship might go. “I control what I can. I just got drafted, and this is a great moment for me and my family,” he said.